Is cannabis on the cusp of entertainment marketing acceptance thanks to Mike Tyson fight and Weedmaps partnership?
Having a nickname as The Baddest Man on the Planet is a tough moniker to live up to, but is it a surprise to anyone that fifty-four-year-old former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson lived up to "being that guy" once again with his fight against fifty-one-year-old Roy Jones Junior on November 28th?
Although this fight was an exhibition, it was an astounding success, generating over $80 million in pay-per-view revenue and landing in the top-ten pay-per-view buys of all time for combat sports, with over 1.6 million purchases.
Above and beyond the numbers, what might be most influential about this fight in the future of marketing and advertising was the prominent sponsorship with cannabis company Weedmaps. In what is believed to be a first of its kind partnership for the entertainment and cannabis industries, the Tyson v. Jones fight may signify the first domino to fall to bring cannabis and CBD marketing mainstream.
We spoke with Juanjo Feijoo, the Chief Marketing Officer of Weedmaps to get a better understanding of how the Weedmaps and Mike Tyson relationship started and what this might mean for the future convergence of entertainment, marketing and cannabis.
What is Weedmaps is and how did they get involved with "Iron Mike"?
Weedmaps, founded in 2008, is a leading technology and software infrastructure provider to the cannabis industry. Weedmaps helps connect consumers to retailers and brands to advocate accessible cannabis for patients and adults. Essentially, they help cannabis and CBD brands to connect with customers but do not actually handle product. One of the brands featured on the Weedmaps website is Mike Tyson’s cannabis brand Tyson Ranch, so there was already an existing relationship with the boxer and his team. Once Feijoo heard about the potential of this fight occurring, Weedmaps explored what it might look like to get involved.
In talking with Feijoo, he believes this first-of-a-kind sponsorship opportunity is groundbreaking for the broader industry and serves as a chance not only to introduce a new audience to Weedmaps, but more importantly, to bring attention to many crucial conversations happening around cannabis today. In addition he said, "This relationship allowed Weedmaps to position itself, and the industry at large, in front of different consumer groups...We feel that our position comes with a responsibility to help break down stigmas around cannabis and push for a more inclusive and transparent industry.”
As an official sponsor, Weedmaps had branding displayed throughout the event, including in the ring, on the screen, during the live broadcast, and in the locker room. Weedmaps also released “The Fighters for Change,” narrated by rapper and entrepreneur Nas that ran during the fight broadcast. This Segment takes viewers through powerful moments in the nation’s history, celebrating those who stood up to fight for change in systemic racism, cannabis legalization and more.
When asked about some of the existing challenges around marketing and advertising cannabis, Feijoo said, “Regardless of the platform, cannabis is hard to market because of restrictions existing around promotion of the plant, as well as associated brands and companies. These restrictions are often policy decisions made by platforms, more so than legal limitations, and the fact that we are not a plant-touching business sometimes helps us get platforms more comfortable with dipping their toes in the water.” As legislation, stigmas, and acceptance change throughout the country, the marketing and advertising of the cannabis industry could unfold similarly to Online Sports Betting (OSB), which took gradual steps from Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) being a loophole, to team and league DFS/OSB partnerships to Regional Sports Networks assuming naming rights of a casino.
In regards to the success of the partnership, Feijoo said, “Given the virtual nature of the event, we really wanted to make sure our branding elements were successful in generating awareness and engaging viewers”. Although it’s too early to understand the full effect of the partnership, early indications point towards this being a beneficial decision, seeing Weedmaps.com web traffic levels around the time of the fight reach similar levels as to what they see on April 20 (4/20 is culturally known as a marijuana holiday).
The timing of this partnership comes at an interesting juncture as the United States and entertainment continue to take steps towards adoption and broader acceptance. The United States has seen state-wide legislation pass in favor of cannabis, as currently thirty-six states have some form of legal marijuana use. In the sports world, The NFL and NFLPA loosed testing policies and punishments in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the NBA officially suspended random marijuana drug testing for the 2020-2021 season.
While you may not see dispensaries built within new stadiums and arenas, there is a trend towards widespread acceptance and the future ability for cannabis companies to market in and around the sports and entertainment world. We may look back on the Weedmaps and Mike Tyson fight partnership one day and scratch our heads as to how it took until 2020 for a relationship as such to become commonplace in today’s society.